The beauty of the automotive world is that cars, they come in all shapes and sizes. This is no different for the enthusiasts looking for something that makes their hearts skip a beat. There are many ways for us to get our kicks from.
For example, on one end of the spectrum, you have the hot hatch of hot hatches, the VW Golf GTI. On the other, you have the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ. These two cars are as divergent as they come. Yet they bring driving pleasure in their own unique ways. How do I know? I’ve had the privilege of owning the VW Golf GTI MK6 and now the Subaru BRZ.
For 7 generations, the Golf GTI has been serving up performance hot hatchery with its blend of performance, practicality, and refinement. Its appeal lies in the fact that you can do the mundane stuff with it every day, but still turn the wick up when the mood strikes you.
The Golf GTI is proof that front-wheel drive (FWD) cars can be engineered to drive well, despite all the wrong-wheel drive brickbats that ‘purists’ hurl at it. In 9 out of 10 situations, it is never flustered by what any driver can throw at it, remaining composed and rock-solid at all times.
However, it is this composure and unflappable character that later reveals itself to be slightly anodyne. On the very limit, the GTI is just inherently biased towards understeer (I discovered this in the safe confines of our Sepang International Circuit, SIC), no matter what I did. Lift-off oversteer? The GTI practically convulses at the thought of that.
Of course, you’ll adjust your driving to suit the car, but was it fun to drive? To me, it was quite frustrating, because you’re waiting for the understeer to go away before getting back on the power. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just physics, how the weight distribution of a FWD car is. Majority of the car’s weight is at the nose, which puts a lot of strain on the front tyres. In almost any situation on the road, this on-the-limit characteristic didn’t bother me (I mean, you shouldn’t be driving on the limit on public roads). In fact, the GTI is the better all-rounder to live with, for reasons I stated above.
So why did I then trade a GTI for a BRZ? It was a decision that was questioned by many, some even considering it a ‘downgrade’. Yes, I lost the Golf’s refinement, the immediate surge of torque a turbo engine gives you, and the 4-door practicality. But, what I lost, I gained back in pure driving pleasure.
To start off, a rear-wheel drive (RWD) car’s weight distribution is fundamentally more even compared to a FWD. In the BRZ’s case, it’s 53:47 front-rear weight distribution, and it shows when you drive it. It’s patently more agile, eager to change direction, and innately responsive to steering input.
Speaking of steering, because the front tyres are not driven, the steering feel is untainted by torque steer like a FWD, meaning the feedback on the BRZ’s steering is very pure and accurate. Many FWD cars have complex front suspension to battle torque steer (and they work very well), but this just adds to the weight at the nose.
On the limit (again, in SIC), the BRZ just feels less prone to understeer (but it doesn’t mean RWD cars don’t understeer), more throttle-adjustable in a corner, where you can be on the power slightly to keep the car neutral or in slight oversteer. The biggest difference is that, in a corner, you can bring the rear of the BRZ into play in a way you just can’t in the GTI.
For me, this characteristic alone is why I took the plunge with the BRZ, because the gratification it brings, can’t really be explained. Is it faster than the GTI? In most situations, definitely not. But, when people talk about smiles-per-mile, this is what it’s all about.
Again, these are my own personal experiences. There are still plenty of FWD cars out there that are great to drive. But, if I had a choice of only one car in my garage, I’d go with a RWD car, because with my style of driving, it just brings more satisfaction, even if it means sacrificing straight-line grunt.
But, in an ideal world, I’d love to have both these cars sitting in my garage at the same time. The Golf GTI has a special place in my heart, because who doesn’t like a good-old hot hatch? Point-to-point, the GTI is definitely the faster car as well. Having said that, you’ll need to take a drive on the right roads to fully appreciate a RWD car like the Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86. I know I did.